‘Bear-cams’ focus on daily lives of Alaska’s famous brown bears. (ISTOCKPHOTO)
Taking a peek at Alaska’s brown bears

It’s not easy being a brown bear in Alaska. Territorial disputes, mating woes and the endless hunt for salmon infuse daily life with drama. Thanks to eight webcams set up in Katmai National Park, this drama is ready for prime time.

The bear-cam project, funded by the Annenberg Foundation, was launched for two weeks last July to expose people to the brown bear, an icon of the Alaskan wilderness. Katmai National Park, located about 275 miles west of Anchorage and accessible only by float plane, is visited by only a small number of people. Two cameras gave Internet viewers a glimpse of the bears’ lives in the park.

This year, eight cameras will broadcast the animals’ activities in the Brooks Camp area, where about 100 of the park’s more than 2,000 brown bears live. The webcams — one of them underwater — are set up along the Brooks River and at Brooks Falls, where many bears wade into the water to catch salmon traveling upstream.

The action can be viewed at explore.org/bears.

Disaster Prep
How we can survive a mass extinction
“Scatter, Adapt, and Remember” by Annalee Newitz

When Annalee Newitz set out to write a book about the end of the world, she expected doom and gloom. After all, in its 4.5 billion-year history, Earth has been the site of a half-dozen catastrophic disasters, including asteroid blasts, cosmic radiation, ice sheets and powerful volcanic eruptions. Mass extinctions, in which more than 75 percent of the planet’s species died out, have happened five times in the past 400 million years — the dinosaur extinction being the most recent — and many scientists believe another one is coming.

“Scatter, Adapt, and Remember” considers how humans will survive the next mass extinction. (Doubleday)

Nonetheless, in “Scatter, Adapt, and Remember,” Newitz discovers “a single, bright narrative thread that ran through every story of death. That thread was survival. No matter how horrific things got, in geological and human history, life endured.”

According to the book, the planet is overdue for catastrophe. When it happens, billions of creatures will die. But, in all likelihood, billions of others — including some humans — will survive, Newitz writes. It’s a different view than the “last man on Earth” narrative that is popular in science fiction.

The book looks at past great die-offs, including the demise of the dinosaurs, and speculates about what is to come.

Some experts believe that we are already in the midst of a slow mass extinction that began thousands of years ago when humans decimated populations of such large animals as mammoths, giant elk and sloths, and the saber-toothed tiger. Some scientists point to the destruction of animal habitat, the collapse of bee colonies and ever-expanding endangered species lists as indicators that a mass extinction is underway.

But, the book says, there is no way to be sure. No one knows how or when the next great disaster will strike, whether it will be man-made or natural, whether it will be a quick shot or a slow process over hundreds of thousands of years. What is certain, the book says, is that it’s going to happen eventually.

But Newitz does more than chronicle past disasters and speculate about a looming apocalypse. She writes about survival strategies, and she notes that we have reason to be optimistic. The human population is large, we can adapt to new territories and new foods, and we plan for the future by recording the past in oral and written histories. In other words, as the book’s title suggests, humans survive by scattering, adapting and remembering.